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THE WORSHIP OF HEAVEN
Revelation 7:9-12. After this, I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
IN the book of the Revelations of St. John there is more spoken of heaven than in all the inspired volume besides. But so greatly are the circumstances diversified, that, though the subject be ever so often brought under our review, it will always be found to wear a different aspect, and to afford fresh matter for profitable consideration. Indeed so important are those different circumstances, that we should suffer a great loss, if we did not successively fix our attention upon them as they arise. The passage before us might afford us a just occasion for entering into the subject at large; because we behold here the worship both of the saints and angels: but we prefer noticing some particulars which distinguish this individual passage; and for that purpose shall set before you under one head the worship of heaven, and then the instruction to be derived from it.
Let us notice, then,
The worship of heaven—
We behold it here,
As commenced by the glorified saints—
[There was of them “a multitude which no man could number, out of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.” Previous to this period the Gospel had spread throughout all the Roman empire, and more especially if we consider the time spoken of as being after the accession of Constantine to the imperial throne, and to the Christian faith. The sealing of the hundred and forty-four thousand is supposed to refer to the peaceful state of the Church at that period. Doubtless, during the three first centuries of the Christian era, incalculable numbers of souls had embraced the faith, and been exalted to glory: and those added to all that had been found faithful to their God under the Mosaic dispensation, and to all the Lord’s “hidden ones,” whether infant or adult, in every nation under heaven from the beginning of the world, must have gradually swelled the number to a multitude countless as the sands upon the sea-shore.
These all “stood before the throne, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” Perhaps the robes, as well as the palms, were emblems of triumph: or they might denote their perfect purity, being cleansed from all their guilt in the fountain of Christ’s blood, and washed also from all defilement by the sanctifying efficacy of his Spirit. We are told this indeed in the verses immediately following our text: “Who are these that are arrayed in white robes? These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [Note: ver. 13, 14.].” The palms in their hands proclaim them victors in the spiritual warfare. Whilst on earth, they sustained many and arduous conflicts: but they overcame their enemies, and “were more than conquerors through him who loved them.”
But do they trace in any respect their salvation either to their own strength or goodness? No, not in any degree: they all without exception ascribe their “salvation to God,” as the great Original, from whose wisdom, and goodness, and power it has proceeded; and “to the Lamb,” who purchased it for them through his own most precious blood. This is their one unvaried song: and they sing it “with a loud voice,” as glorying in a salvation so dearly bought, and so freely given.]
As continued by the angelic hosts—
[The situation of the angelic hosts is worthy of particular attention: they are round about the throne indeed, as well as the redeemed; but in an exterior circle, and more remote from the common centre; for they are “round about the elders and the four beasts.” They, though spotless, have but a creature-righteousness, whilst the redeemed, though guilty, possessed the righteousness of the Creator himself; and therefore are counted worthy of a nearer access to him than the angels are able to attain.
Nor is their attitude less worthy of remark; for they, though sinless, “fell upon their faces before the throne,” accounting no posture too humiliating for creatures however exalted, whilst occupied in the worship of their God.
Unable to join in the song of the redeemed as applicable to themselves who have never fallen, they yet add their hearty “Amen” to all that the redeemed have uttered, acknowledging that all possible praise is due to God and to the Lamb for such marvellous displays of their power and grace. At the same time they vie with the saints in all suitable expressions of adoration and love to their beneficent Creator; viewing with exquisite delight all the Divine perfections as visible in the works of creation, and as exhibited with yet brighter splendour in the stupendous mysteries of redemption. Every term whereby they can evince their gratitude, they accumulate, with an ardour which no words can adequately express; and then add again their “Amen,” as concentrating in itself all that with the utmost efforts of their nature they are able to convey.]
Slight as is this view of the heavenly worship, it will suffice for the present occasion, if we duly attend to,
The instruction to be derived from it—
It will be found well calculated to teach us,
[If we call to mind the faculties with which we are endowed, so far superior to all other creatures, and inferior to the angels alone, we shall see that we also have reason to adore our God for the blessings of our creation, as well as the angels themselves. And for the wonders of redemption, we are altogether on a par with those who are already before the throne. The same stupendous efforts have been made for us, as for them. For us was God’s co-equal and co-eternal Son sent into the world, as well as for them. For us He lived, and died, and rose again, as well as for them. To us is salvation offered, as freely as ever it was for them; and for us it shall be alike effectual too, if only we embrace it as they did. The only difference between them and us is, that they are put into possession of that which is kept in reserve for us, against the time ordained of the Father for us to possess it. We have the same aid afforded to us that was effectual for them; and the very instant the work of grace is perfected in us, we shall be summoned to the very place that is now occupied by them, and to all eternity shall unite with them in the same blessed employment of singing praises to God and to the Lamb.
We can conceive somewhat of their obligations: let us then in theirs view and acknowledge our own also.]
[The robes of the redeemed are emblematic of their purity, as the palms in their hands are of the victories which they gained. But how did they attain their purity? By continued applications of the blood and Spirit of Christ to their souls. And how did they gain their victories, but by fighting manfully in the strength of Christ? Behold then how we must be occupied whilst sojourning here below. We must day and night wash in the fountain that was once opened for sin and for uncleanness: our very holiest services, no less than our grossest abominations, must be purged from guilt by the blood of Christ. At the same time we must mortify the whole body of sin by the influence of the Spirit of Christ: the one labour of our life must be to grow up into the Saviour’s image, and to “purify ourselves, even as he is pure.” But whilst striving after these things we shall have many conflicts to maintain: we have enemies to encounter both without and within; and we must fight manfully against them all; nor ever for a moment relax our efforts, till Satan and all his hosts are for ever “bruised under our feet.” It was not by mere inactive wishes that any of the saints in glory triumphed, but by warring a good warfare. And in like manner must we also “fight a good fight, and finish our course, and keep the faith” even to the end, if ever we would attain “the crown of righteousness that fadeth not away.”]
[Which among the heavenly hosts did not once feel the same discouragements that we experience? But God in his tender mercy carried on and perfected his work in their souls: and he is equally willing to accomplish in us also all the good pleasure of his goodness, if we will look to him, and commit our cause into his gracious hands. He will not leave us or forsake us, any more than he forsook and abandoned them: and “in our weakness is he willing to perfect his own strength,” as much as he ever did in theirs. There is no trial to which we can be subjected, that was not experienced by them in their day; nor was there any succour afforded to them, that shall not be dispensed to us also in the hour of need. They in their day envied those who had gone before them, as you do them: and in a little time will others arise to envy you, when your warfare shall be finished, and your blessedness be complete. Remember that “He who sitteth on the throne” is as much interested for you as ever he was for them; and that “the Lamb” is as tender over you as ever he was over them. Only rest on a promise-keeping God, and he will never fail you. He has promised that “none shall pluck you out of his hands” but that he will preserve you unto his “heavenly kingdom:” and “faithful is He who hath called you; who also will do it.”]
THE FELICITY OF THE GLORIFIED SAINTS
Revelation 7:14-17. These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
THE more light and knowledge God has communicated to us, the more ready shall we be to confess our ignorance, and to receive instruction from those who are qualified and appointed to teach us. Unsanctified knowledge indeed will puff us up with conceit; but that which comes from God, will lead us to God with deeper humility. The Apostle John was distinguished above all the Apostles by special tokens of his Master’s favour; insomuch that he was called “the Disciple whom Jesus loved.” Nor was he less distinguished by the multitude of revelations that were given to him. In the chapter before us he records a vision which he had of the heavenly world, wherein he saw all the hosts of heaven, and heard the anthems which they sang before the throne of God. Being interrogated by one of the celestial choir respecting the persons whom he had seen, Who they were? and, Whence they had come? he modestly declined offering any opinion of his own; and, in hopes of obtaining information from him, confessed the superior intelligence of this divine messenger. The desired information was immediately imparted: he was told, in the words we have just read, Whence they came; How they came thither; and The nature and extent of their felicity. Taking this therefore as the distribution of our subject, we shall shew, respecting the glorified saints,
Whence they came—
[Perhaps the persons whom the Apostle saw, were those who had suffered martyrdom for the sake of Christ [Note: Revelation 6:9-11.]. But “it is through much tribulation that every one must enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Persecution indeed does not rage equally at all times, or affect all in an equal degree: but “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer it.” It is necessary that they should endure it, not only to prove the sincerity of their faith, but to accomplish, in many other respects, the gracious purposes of God towards them. Besides, there are numberless other troubles, which are peculiar to the true Christian, and are more afflictive than the most cruel persecution. The temptations of Satan are often like fiery darts that pierce the soul, and inflame it with a deadly venom. The body of sin and death, which even the most exalted saints carry about with them to the latest hour of their lives, often drew from the Apostle tears and groans, which his bitterest enemies never could extort. He could rejoice and glory in the sufferings which they inflicted; but a sense of his indwelling corruptions broke his spirit, and humbled him in the dust. There is yet another source of tribulation, which, when opened, overwhelms the soul with inexpressible anguish. The hidings of God’s face were the chief ingredient of that bitter cup, which so distressed our adorable Saviour, that his “soul was sorrowful, even unto death.” Nor are any of his followers so highly privileged, but they at times cry out by reason of dereliction, and feel a grief too big for utterance. Hence then may it be said of all that are in heaven, That they came thither through much tribulation; or, as it is spoken by the prophet, That “the third part, the chosen remnant, are brought through the fire [Note: Zechariah 13:9.].”
But as they are a remnant only who partake of that glory, while by far the greater part are left to perish in their sins, it will be proper to inquire,]
How they came thither—
[Though tribulation is the way to heaven, and, when suffered for the sake of Christ, is the means of advancing us to higher degrees of glory, or, as the Apostle says, “worketh out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” yet is it by no means meritorious in the sight of God: if our trials were ever so great, ever so long continued, and ever so patiently endured, they would not expiate our guilt, or purchase the remission of one single sin. Nor is repentance, however deep, at all more available for the removal of our guilt. As well might the Ethiopian hope to change his complexion, or the leopard to wash away his spots in water, as we to cleanse our souls from the stains they have contracted, even though we could bathe them in rivers of tears. But though neither the tears of penitence, nor the blood of martyrdom, can avail for the washing of our robes, “there is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness,” a fountain in which “sins of a crimson dye may be made white as snow.” The blood of the Lamb of God was shed for this very purpose, and is ever effectual for this end. And if we could ask of every saint that is in heaven, How came you hither? Whence had you this white robe? there would be but one answer from them all; all without exception would acknowledge that “their own righteousnesses were as filthy rags;” and that they “washed them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This is noticed in the text as the express reason of their being exalted to glory; they washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb; therefore are they before the throne of God. And, if ever we would go thither, we must go in the same way, and “be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, but his.”
That we may be stirred up to seek a participation of their privileges, let us consider,]
The nature and extent of their felicity—
While we are in this world we can form but very inadequate conceptions of what is passing in heaven. But respecting the glorified saints the text informs us, that,
They serve God—
[Heaven is not a scene of inactivity, but of constant diligence in the service of God. As God dwelt visibly in the temple, and the chambers of the priests surrounded him on every side; and as the priests ministered before him in white garments, all in their courses attending upon him by day and by night, so he is represented as seated on his throne in heaven; and all his saints being made priests unto him, they surround his throne clothed in white robes, and minister unto him, not in rotation, but all together, with incessant watchfulness. They once were prevented by their infirmities, and by the very necessities of nature, from glorifying him so continually as they would have wished; but now their powers are enlarged, and they can serve him without weariness and without distraction. Now also they have a freedom from every thing that could at all abate their happiness in his service. When they were in the flesh they had many wants yet unsupplied, and many trials that were grievous to flesh and blood. If they had lost their desire after earthly things, yet they hungered and thirsted after God, and felt many painful sensations by reason of their distance from him. But now every trial is removed: the sun of persecution no longer lights on them; nor do the fiery darts of Satan any longer wound their souls [Note: Revelation 21:3-4.]. Hence their services are unintermitted, and their happiness is unalloyed.]
God serves them—
[Both the Father and Christ delight to minister to their happiness. The Father has long “pitied them, as a parent pities” his dear afflicted infant; and, rejoicing with them in the termination of their trials, now “wipes the tears from their eyes,” and receives them to his everlasting embraces. The Lord Jesus too, who, though on his throne, is yet “as a Lamb that has been slain,” delights to minister unto them [Note: Luke 12:37.]. Once, as the great Shepherd of the sheep, he sought them out, and brought them home on his shoulders rejoicing, and fed them in green pastures, and made them to lie down beside the still waters. The same office does he still execute in heaven, where his widely scattered flock are collected, as “one fold under one Shepherd [Note: Joh 10:16].” There he feeds them in far richer pastures than they ever saw below, and “leads them from the streams, to the living fountains” of consolation and bliss. Incessantly does he give them brighter discoveries of all the Divine perfections as harmonizing, and as glorified, in their salvation; and incessantly does he refresh them with the sweetest tokens of his love, and the most abundant communications of his joy.]
How patient should we be in all our tribulations!
[Tribulation is but the way to our Father’s house: and can we repine at the difficulties of the way, if we only consider whither it is leading us? Besides, while every trial brings us nearer to our journey’s end, it leaves one trial less to be endured. “Be patient, then, and hope to the end.”
How earnest should we be to obtain an interest in Christ!
[Nothing but his blood can cleanse us from sin; nor can we ever be admitted to the marriage-supper without a wedding garment. Let us go then to the fountain; let us wash and be clean.]
How diligent should we be in seeking heaven!
[Will not the blessedness of heaven repay us? Will it not be time enough to rest when we get thither? Let us then press forward with all our might.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Revelation 7". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany